What you’ve heard is true. I was in my garden when I first saw the man, standing right on this very spot. I’m always out here. The sea garden is the only thing that keeps me going now my wife has died. We’d been married thirty-three years before the cancer took her. When I wake up in the mornings, I still feel for her warm form on the other side of the bed. But now there’s just space; an emptiness. After the initial stab of pain, I come out and tend to the plants, filling the borders with the salt-spray roses and Himalayan Blue Poppies she loved. It’s nice when people like you stop to comment as you pass.
So, let me tell you about the man. He was standing up there on the crest of the hill overlooking the harbour. I didn’t make much of it at the time; after all, plenty of people walk that coastal path during the summer. But something about him made me pause and take a longer look. There he was, just a silhouette against the blue sky, looking out over the sea. But it was his hair that caught my eye. You see, it was on fire.
I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I can only describe what I saw. While I stood there staring, like you are at me right now, he turned away and burst into flames. What’s more, he never made a sound. I told the police what I’d seen when they came to investigate the charred remains. And like you, they were incredulous. But in the end, they had to accept it. No explanation was ever found. It seems the man had simply gone up through the force of his own energy.
The coastal path was closed for a while, and a few days later, the story appeared in the local gazette. Turns out the man had been a poet. A good one too; published and well respected. I bought a book of his poems, and have since concluded that he had no illusions about there being some sort of order in all this chaos, just like my wife didn’t at the end. That’s simply a rationalisation we all cling to. It’s what stops us from falling apart. It’s what stops us from catching fire.